This lesson plan is part of the series "Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.
Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.
It is very common in the United States when meeting a new person to ask them “Where are you from originally?” In her poem “Peaches,” Adrienne Su, a Chinese American who grew up in the state of Georgia, sheds light on the complexity of answering that question when you are both “stranger and native.” This poem reflects upon the complex identities many Americans grapple with—a critical factor to consider as our nation continues to evolve into a twenty-first-century American community characterized by wide diversity.
The following sequence of activities is designed to help students think about the connections between food and identity that Adrienne Su evokes in her poem. The activities also seek to level the playing field among diverse learners, by including multiple ways to enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust the activities to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.
A Note about Vocabulary
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they read and hear, but do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words during which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
- Students will identify how food is representative of culture in different ways and express that through original poetry.
- Students will explore a poet’s use of sensory imagery and rhyme scheme to bring a poem to life.
- Students will empathize with Americans whose families have come to this country as immigrants and identify as both “stranger and native.”
- Students will generate their own questions to further explore the meaning of the poem.
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
English Language Arts
Activity 1: Whip Around Warm-Up
Objective: Students will begin to think about the symbolic nature of food in different cultures.
Ask your students to think of a food that is representative of their culture in some way. Quickly go around the room and ask each student to call out their food and where they or their ancestors are from. If a particular student needs more time, they can pass, and you can come back to them after every other student has had a turn.
Activity 2: Small-Group Work
Objective: Students will make a connection between a food and how it is stored, prepared, or eaten in their family.
- Ask your students to quick write down as many associations they have with the food they mentioned in the whip around. These associations can include things such as how the food is bought, when it is eaten, with whom it is eaten, any history of the food, etc.
- Have your students get into small groups to share their foods and their lists with one another. Have them ask one another questions about the food, so they can add more detail to what they have written.
Activity 3: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will discuss the significance of food and how it is obtained, prepared and eaten in their homes.
Conduct a whole-class discussion around the question: What is the significance of how food is obtained, prepared, and eaten in different cultures? Make sure your students use details from their small group discussions to support their answers.
Activity 1: Reading the Poem
Objective: Students will identify words, images, and phrases that jump out at them in the poem, as well as the placement of the words on the page
- Project the poem “Peaches” from Poets.org
- Ask your students to read the poem silently. As they read, they should write down the words, images, phrases, and word placement that they notice.
- If your class size allows for it, select nine student volunteers to read the poem aloud, one for each stanza (see the definition of stanza on Poets.org). Ask the listening students to close their eyes and listen to the rhythm and the words.
- Again, if your class size allows, select another nine student volunteers to read the poem aloud, one for each stanza. This time, ask the listening students to listen for new and different things that jump out at them. They should write these down.
Activity 2: Listening to Adrienne Su Read “Peaches”
Objective: Students will notice the difference between reading a poem on a page and experiencing a poet reading her poem.
- Tell your students that when they listen to the audio, they will record what they notice when Adrienne Su reads her poem. Ask them to pay close attention to the emphasis Su places on different words and phrases. Do they hear anything differently now? Make sure they record their new perceptions with their other notes.
- Play the audio of Adrienne Su reading her poem.
Activity 1: Generating Questions
Objective: Students will generate questions about the poem “Peaches” after listening to and reading the poem.
- Ask your students to get back in their small groups. Have them look carefully at the words, phrases, and structural elements in the poem that are on their lists and use them to create questions that will help them understand the poem better. Ask each student to share their questions with the other members of the group. Ask the group to brainstorm answers to each person’s questions.
- Have each group select one question they would like to present to the whole class for more discussion.
Activity 2: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will brainstorm answers to questions about the poem “Peaches.”
- Ask the representative from each small group to present the one question they would like to brainstorm with the entire class. Write the questions on the front board with the students’ responses.
- After the questions are written down, ask your students to look at their lists of details from the poem to see how they can help answer the questions they still have.
Additional Questions for Discussion:
(If your students have not raised the following questions on their own, you can add these to further their discussion and their exploration of the poem’s meaning.)
- Describe the ways peaches relate to being Chinese in Adrienne Su’s home.
- Can a rhyme scheme be identified within each four-line stanza? (If your students are not familiar with rhyme scheme, introduce or review the definition of slant rhyme under Poetic Devices in Poetry Glossary on Poets.org).
- The last two stanzas in the poem seem to focus on something other than food and home. What is it?
- How does Su describe “typical immigrants’ children? Based on your own life experience, or another’s life experience, do you agree with this description?
- What does Su mean by “the odd perplexing question?”
At this time, you can also introduce the idea of a “turn” in poetry, also referred to as a volta (a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion near the conclusion of a poem). Have students consider how Adrienne Su uses a “turn” in this poem.
Ask your students to write a poem that starts talking about a significant food in their family using a number of four-line stanzas that include slant rhyme. Their poem should:
- use appropriate details
- use connections they have made from the food to other aspects of their culture (see Section 1, Activity 2)
- allow their imaginations to take them from a description of the food to an important other aspect of their lives
With your students, develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, do they (and you) think are the basic characteristics of an exemplary poem (or essay) that starts discussing a food and connects to other important aspects of a family’s life? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? Remind them to include items such as vivid details, slant rhyme, four line stanzas, and turns.
- Explore the importance of peaches in Chinese history by having your students do research on the subject. One possible source is an article on longevity in Chinese culture available from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History in which the peach is discussed. What other fruits and vegetables are indigenous to China?
- What fruits and vegetables are indigenous to the countries from which your students or their ancestors came? Which ones can grow here? Which ones can they get only in the country from which they, or their ancestors, came?
- Have your students write a short story about someone who is the child of immigrants and some of the adjustments this child has to make in her new home.
- Invite the school community, including the students’ parents, to an international feast where your students read their poetry and short stories, as well as bring an important family food for all to share.
- Create an anthology of your students’ poems and stories.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this lesson plan do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.